The Gathering’s Wilds Of Eldraine Is A Breath Of Fresh Air

There’s a lot riding on Wilds of Eldraine. It’s been five months since Magic: The Gathering’s March of the Machine, and since then we’ve had a turbulent summer full of whiffs like The Aftermath, The Lord of the Rings’ One Ring frenzy, and players taking out mortgages and selling vital organs for a single pack of Commander Masters.


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Wilds of Eldraine needs to be good to blow away the cobwebs of the last few months. Luckily, it’s done that and then some. It’s a vibrant set inspired by European fairy tales full of fantastic mechanics, and some of the most gorgeous art we’ve seen in a while, while also successfully shaking off the Phyrexian invasion and reminding us that Magic is meant to be, more than anything else, fun.

RELATED: Every Card In Magic: The Gathering’s Wilds Of Eldraine

Our first trip to the plane, 2019’s Throne of Eldraine, wasn’t a perfect set, plagued by a weak mono-colour theme and some incredibly busted cards like Oko, Thief of Crowns; Once Upon A Time, and Fires of Invention picking up bans left and right. Its popularity instead almost entirely hinged on its more flavourful elements. The towering courts, the gallant knights, the gingerbread men, and a billion references to the Brothers’ Grimm helped us fall in love with the world it strived to create.

Beluna Grandsquall by Victor Adame Minguez
Beluna Grandsquall by Victor Adame Minguez

Wilds of Eldraine expands on the world by moving beyond the human courts and into the untamed wilds. It does away with the Arthurian influence of its predecessor, and instead goes all-in on the fairy tales. These tales define everything about Wilds, from its art right down to its structure, in a way that feels far more cohesive than in Throne. Even its ten limited archetypes are based on tales rather than the simple mechanical or faction consideration we usually get, like red/green retelling Little Red Riding Hood by having you control big creatures, or blue/green being Jack and the Beanstalk and ramping up lands as fast as possible.

Free from the body horror of Phyrexia, Eldraine’s free to explore the more whimsical, painterly style I love so much. Even otherwise unremarkable cards like Cheeky House-Mouse, Living Lectern, and Lord Skitter’s Butcher are bursting with personality and a frivolity we’ve been missing from Magic since the Phyrexians burst back on the scene. This sense of care-free adventure can be found right from the storybook alt-arts to the basic lands, which are shadowbox photographs by Hari & Deepti that look radically different to the usual digital art that dominates Magic’s visual language.

Woe Lands

The mechanics brought back from Throne of Eldraine have also been improved. Adventure was by far the runaway hit of Throne, putting two spells on a single card. In Wilds, we’ve now got multi-coloured Adventures, which tears the design space wide open and allows otherwise mono-coloured creatures to do pretty much anything with the addition of an Adventure spell. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see Adventure follow the likes of Saga in becoming a much more ubiquitous mechanic thanks to this change, and it’ll be exciting to see how far they can be taken.

Food’s comeback is a little less confident, despite having appeared just a few months ago to great effect in The Lord of the Rings. Flavourfully, the introduction of the Hansel and Gretal village of Sweettooth, and its monstrous sweets where most Food cards in this set are found, is an absolute slam dunk. But Food feels somewhat tacked onto the set, serving as one of its generic sacrifice fodder pieces for the new bargain mechanic instead of its own, special thing. The goal was for Food to do more than make games grindy through lifegain, but I don’t think Wizards has quite hit the mark on it just yet.

Back For Seconds by Julia Metzger
Back For Seconds by Julia Metzger

If anything brings back the horrors of Oko-tober and the warping impact Throne of Eldraine had on the game, it’s bargain. It’s effectively kicker, but instead of paying mana you can sacrifice an artifact, enchantment, or any token instead, and the results are some horrifically powerful cards that are already having an effect on the game. Did we need Beseech the Mirror, a new way to get out The One Ring or Sheoldred, The Apocalypse with even more regularity? Probably not. Hamlet Glutton has also been tearing up the limited environment as a quick and easy way to get a 6/6 out ahead of schedule. If any cards get banned from this set, you’ll likely see the bargain keyword on there somewhere.

Wilds of Eldraine’s biggest appeal isn’t found in the booster packs, though, it’s what it represents for Magic as an ongoing game. Eldraine has been used as the palate-cleanser before, debuting right after the War of the Spark. This time it’s the follow-up to the March of the Machine, giving us room to breathe after a years-long arc, and a jumping-on point for new players who don’t know who Jin Gitaxias is, but can recognise the Big Bad Wolf with ease.

Decadent Dragon by Aaron Miller
Decadent Dragon by Aaron Miller

After months of turbulence, we have Wilds of Eldraine, a set that’s reasonably priced, well-designed, thematically resonant, and has, aside from a few mix-ups with tokens in the Commander precon decks, come and gone without an outpouring of controversy. It wasn’t just the Phyrexians we needed a rest from, and Wilds helps remind us that, at its core, Magic is a really, really fun game. Magic has finally remembered it doesn’t need to be all multiversal stakes and body horror; sometimes you just want to say you’re “cheesed to meet you” when you play a Cheeky House-Mouse.

NEXT: TCG Release Dates 2023

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